Steelers Tomlin falls on grenade, shrapnel should hit players too

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

While it's noble of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to take responsibility for recent draft failures, the blame is not his alone; general manager Kevin Colbert deserves a piece, but the players themselves do as well.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was in an accountability mood during his press conference Tuesday.

That isn't exactly a rare stance for him. But even he has to wonder if the message is beginning to get a little stale when the questions he's being asked are starting to gear less around the specific xs and os of their most recent game or their upcoming opponent, and more around the general direction of the franchise.

When asked essentially what his role is in draft-day decisions, he dove on the grenade.

When asked about his defensive coordinator, he was blunt.

Tough is the job of an NFL head coach amid a 2-6 season, but the beat reporter can't be having all that much fun, either. Those are tough questions to ask, and they have to stab a little bit into Tomlin's stoic, ultra-serious facade.

The players Tomlin have drafted are not, by and large, a group of players most coaches would want to lay claim to having developed. And even as Tomlin deflects criticism of LeBeau by simply name-dropping, all of these issues are growing from a dull headache into a 10-15 migraine going all the way back to a road playoff loss at Denver in January of 2012.

Tomlin's bark isn't even suggestive it will carry much bite - or, it will have as much bite as a barking dog with no teeth. The players he takes responsibility for having brought into the organization are mediocre on average, and are a tad less-than-adequate, to put it mildly, as a group.

Even if Tomlin falls on the grenade for one above him - Colbert - and one below him - LeBeau - the shrapnel still penetrates his winter black puffy jacket and hits everyone. In essence, Tomlin is the face of the organization, whether his face is covered in egg or if it's glowing with the shimmer of a potential champion.

Another angle, and one that is overlooked in the rush for bloody vengeance, is the players themselves. Tomlin's willing to take the slings and arrows during pressers, which is certainly better than being combative or aloof. The players drafted may not be performing to the level to which Steelers fans are accustomed, but that accountability needs to fall on the players drafted, not just on those who chose to select them.

It's a two-way street, and one fans will choose to dismiss because it's easier to fault the pick itself, not breaking down where, precisely, the failings of that player rest.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward was well on track to become the first legitimate first round bust the team has had since Troy Edwards in 1999. Heyward's resurgence is a lesson in patience - even if his improvement led to the demotion of another first round pick, Ziggy Hood.

So perhaps now Hood carries the bust label. His biggest sin is he's not Aaron Smith - a Steelers legend taken in the fourth round of the 1999 NFL Draft. Otherwise, Hood has played 72 games in a four and a half year career. No one's claiming he's an All-Pro player, and there's something to be said about the situation in which he was placed. Hood was a three-technique defensive tackle in college, as are most of the players the Steelers bring in to play the five-technique defensive end position for them. Smith was a middle round pick, veteran stalwart Brett Keisel was taken in the seventh round. Clearly, these men took well to the position and the coaching afforded to them.

Perhaps Hood really is just a dog, and won't ever amount to a career any more glamorous than that of veteran journeyman Nick Eason. Maybe Hood shares a part of that blame, too. And if you compare the current career trajectory of Heyward and Hood, clearly, Heyward is the one creating the warm and fuzzies. Heyward's also played in 39 career games.

Why is he suddenly so much better than Hood? The Steelers changed priorities a bit with their defensive line, and are seeing outstanding production from Heyward and nose tackle Steve McLendon. If Hood is to be cast out now as the real bust in the group, then ok.

Who else should be added to that group? Rashard Mendenhall? The same player who's Twitter escapades overshadowed a 4.1 yard average, two 1,000 yard seasons and 29 touchdowns in five years with the Steelers - the last of those seasons played on a reconstructed knee. Was he a horrible pick?

BTSC servers exploded the night David DeCastro was drafted. No first round pick was more highly touted in team history - considering the size and the popularity of the NFL Draft in 2012 compared to where it was in the 1970s. He's legitimately one of the best guards in the NFL right now, and he's only played 11 career games. Maurkice Pouncey, the team's first pick in 2010, when healthy, is a quality center. Lawrence Timmons is an amazing talent who has showed flashes of being among the best at his position in the league.

The middle round picks may fairly be described as going in the opposite direction. Failure to retain the talent while reaching for too many who are no longer on the team is more of the problem here, but it's not as if the team has completely whiffed in the draft.

The shrapnel from that grenade deserves to hit Tomlin and Colbert (metaphorically speaking, of course). But players play, coaches coach and scouts scout. Blame is universal, and no one should be let off the hook here.

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